Cornell Grad Students Form Unrecognized Union

September 25, 2015

Graduate student workers at Cornell University voted to form a union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, they announced Thursday. The election took place outside National Labor Relations Board channels and the university has not recognized Cornell Graduate Students United. There’s a federal labor law precedent against graduate student worker unions at private colleges -- Cornell is private, although it operates some units of the State University of New York -- but the union says it would like to be recognized by the university anyway, outside of litigation. (New York University recognized its United Autoworkers-affiliated graduate student union, for example.) If that doesn't happen, the Cornell union says, it will explore various options to further student workers’ goals, which include increased stipends, workers’ compensation, six- and seventh-year funding, and more say in university affairs.

Joel M. Malina, a Cornell spokesperson, said in a statement that graduate student workers are not considered employees under federal labor law since “their relationship with the university is primarily educational. As a result, they do not have the right to union representation or to engage in collective bargaining. Cornell will follow the law.” If the law changes, he said, and graduate student workers still want a union, “such considerations are ultimately a matter for Cornell graduate assistants to decide through the appropriate process, which may include a legally sanctioned election should a sufficient number of graduate students request one.”

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